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South African wines are universally recognized as “new world,” but they have a very long history. First produced in 1659 by Cape Dutch settlers, they continued to flourish and expand with the arrival of French Huguenots in the late 1600s, and by the 18th century, had even developed a following among European royalty – one wine in particular was sought after by Napoleon and French King Louis Philippe, and written about by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. One of the world’s oldest producers, South Africa is now the seventh largest in the world – producing more than New Zealand, Chile, and about half that of the United States.

If those statistics come as a surprise, there’s good reason: the country was in the wine wilderness until apartheid ended and sanctions against the country were lifted in the mid-90s. With the end of apartheid came increased market opportunities, the privatization and modernization of the South Africa’s wine industry, and dramatic increases in exports – which grew 219% between 1998 and 2010.

Blessed with lean soils, Mediterranean climates, mountains, valleys, cool, wet winters , warm, dry summers, and sea breezes from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the winemaking capitol of the Western Cape is an ideal place for growing grapes.

Add to its favorable climate the increasingly dynamic industrial practices, freshly planted vineyards, scores of winemakers at home and abroad investing in the country, and its highly favorable exchange rate, and it is no wonder that South Africa is now recognized as a world-class player on the international wine stage, and how it won its hard-earned reputation for high quality wine at the right price.

White wines have long dominated here, and their production still slightly exceeds that of reds. Chenin, known locally as steen, remains king – with about a fifth of all Cape vineyards covered in these vines, the varietal has not only become a national specialty, but South Africa has become the world’s top producer of this dry, fruity wine. But with increased attention to international styles and consumer demand, there has been a marked increase in sauvignon blanc and chardonnay plantings in recent years, and successes that have resulted in increasing international acclaim.

While cabernet sauvignon is still the top red wine produced in South Africa, the country produces a range of red varietals that are planted elsewhere around the globe. There is one uniquely South African grape – pinotage – a viticultural cross of pinot noir and cinsault grapes, which was bred at Stellenbosch University in 1925. This deep red, earthy wine has become another national specialty, and a common ingredient in many Cape blends.

Although the US market for South African wines was initially limited and focused largely on everyday drinking wines, there has been a steadily growing list of top-notch wines making their way to US shores, and more of them showing up on Top 100 lists and restaurant menus all the time. Thanks to the professionals who try everything, and the thriving US wine market, it has become increasingly clear to all that South Africa can deliver some of the best wine values for the money at both ends of the drinking spectrum.

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a boutique firm specializing in South African travel. From our flagship food and wine safaris, to tours tailored to you or your small group’s interests and timeline, to excursions in Southern Africa, we offer the ultimate in South African experiences.


Wild Life Wine Safaris
Phone: 1(888) 558-5221
700 Pennsylvania Avenue SE,
2nd floor,
Washington, DC 20003

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